Leading article: The quiet heroism of carers

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The Independent Online

There are events which fix the daily knockabout of politics in proper perspective. The death of David Cameron's six-year-old son Ivan, who suffered from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, is one of them. However intense the political battle between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, a personal tragedy of this kind transcends partisan bickering. Rightly, Prime Minister's Questions were cancelled yesterday and replaced by sombre tributes.

Gordon Brown, whose own daughter, Jennifer Jane, died at just 10 days old in 2002, paid gracious tribute to David and Samantha Cameron, to whom Ivan's short life gave such joy.

For the rest of us, the couple's devoted parenting has illuminated the predicament of all those caring for severely disabled children. And the reality is that too many of these families are offered inadequate support.

As Ian Birrell argues today, respite care is scarce. And families must patiently negotiate a complex bureaucracy to access the facilities that are available. Life is made harder if both parents choose to work or when their financial resources are limited.

Many families find themselves in the latter group. Half of those with disabled children live on the poverty line or below it. More must be done to ease their burden. It is deplorable that one in 10 poor families with disabled children have suffered power supply cut-offs – a problem which could be readily solved if the Government extended to them the winter fuel assistance paid to pensioners.

Meanwhile, there remains a critical shortage of professional carers in the NHS. And this situation could well worsen following the recommendation of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee that foreign nationals be discouraged from entering the UK to take jobs in this sector. We should not accept such senseless restrictions.

A quiet heroism is exhibited by those families who wrestle with the adversities presented by caring for a disabled child. Ivan Cameron's death is a personal tragedy and a public provocation: we must do more to honour the contribution of carers.